The Drill, Burntwood
The England football team may have failed their legions of fans but our undercover meal reviewer The Insider finds a pub that scores for quality food.
The England flags hung proudly from the windows,
. The marquees stood ready outside The Drill, there was a chalkboard for the World Cup scores above the bar.
And the special guest had been ordered: England Expects.
England Expects? Expects what? England expects to be sent home early? England expects to scrape a draw with Algeria? England expects to be tanked by the Germans? You can always rely on our sportsmen to mess up your marketing strategy, can't you?
Wisely, Bateman's brewery produced two alternative pump clips for the World Cup. In the unlikely event of an England triumph, the beer pulls would bear the words "And the team delivers." If things didn't go according to plan, the beer would be marketed under the slogan "We've blown it!"
It felt a rather bitter-sweet experience as we rolled up outside The Drill. On the one hand, it was a glorious summer's evening, people were outside enjoying themselves; a small girl was feeding the lovable looking dogs which jumped up to the gate of their pound every time somebody walked past. But the flags made me feel a little sad, a reminder of the high hopes at the start of the summer, only for them to end with the usual disappointment. All right, I'll stop now, before I reduce you all to tears.
I decided to visit The Drill on the recommendation of Mike Miles, who regularly writes to me telling me about his outstanding experiences, and the great menu from which to take your pick.
Last year Mike told me he and his wife dined at The Drill five times in one week or so, and more recently enjoyed a wonderful meal for Father's Day.
"My wife and I feel that we have, at last, found a pub that truly takes fresh food seriously," he adds.
Another reader who rates The Drill is Mick Turner, who took a party of 11 to celebrate his daughter's 18th birthday party.
"The food was fantastic again," he told me, adding that four of the guests had the mega mixed grill.
"The plate was overflowing with an abundance of meats, all well cooked, and presented perfectly - not for the faint hearted."
Parking around the pub does not seem to be a problem, although the pub is built on a slope, so wheelchair users may need to be dropped off at the door. There are steps up to the front entrance, but the French window at the rear should provide easy access.
Children will love it. There is a large, landscaped garden with a special play area for youngsters; as well as the dogs, somebody on a neighbouring table mentioned there were goats as well, and said there was a beautifully landscaped field for visitors to walk in. There is a curious mix of styles though. The football flags, the branded parasols, the gambling machine next to the bar all shout cheap and cheerful, and there are karaoke evenings if that is your thing.
On the other hand, a real effort had been made to give the small dining area at the back of the pub a modern, sophisticated look, with stylish minimalist furniture, but it looked slightly at odds with the abundance of wooden beams and the plethora of horse brasses.
There are some glorious views from the windows, and there is a warm, welcoming atmosphere. The customers all seemed not only to be on friendly terms with the staff, but also with each other, chatting across the tables.
I'm pretty sure neither Mike nor Mick were present at the time of our visit, but Des and Bob were clearly having a good time, with Des, a physically imposing man with a large beard, tucking into one of the massive mixed grills. A braver man than me. A young, floppy-haired waiter, around 18 years of age, introduced himself as "Johnny". At least I think it was Johnny. If it was Johnnie, Jonnie, or Jonny, please accept my apologies. Johnny did tell us he would be more than happy to answer any questions we might have during the evening, but even so, I think my cover might have been rumbled if I had inquired about the spelling of his name.
Johnny (for the purposes of simplicity, that spelling will be used from here on) was clearly an intelligent young man, and chatted at length to the regulars about his plans to study international business at university, and he also spoke about how much he enjoyed working at The Drill - a credit to the youth of today.
The menu is pretty comprehensive to begin with, including old favourites such as ham, egg and chips, steak and ale pie and chicken and stilton, and for those not brave enough for the mixed grill, there is a smaller meat combo consisting of a 4oz rump steak and a 4oz gammon. There is a choice of fish dishes, and two vegetarian options, but there was also an impressive specials board.
Regular readers will not be too surprised that I went for the fillet steak with pepper sauce, which was excellent value at £14.90. If I was to quibble a little bit, it was that Johnny forgot to ask how I wanted it cooked, but then again I forgot to tell him as well. As soon as I realised my mistake I informed Johnny, and a crisis was averted.
The steak was very good indeed, probably just as good as the one I had paid £22.45 for a couple of weeks ago. The hand-cut chips were excellent too, and there was a good supply of vegetables, including cauliflower, swede and carrots.
My companion went for the barbecue melt, essentially chicken in barbecue sauce, with a crispy bacon and melted cheese topping, and it was rated very highly, with the sauce being singled out for special praise.
My pint of England Expects was a long time coming, mind - it's not like England to keep you waiting for something good, is it? It was a pleasant, if unremarkable pint, amber in colour with fruity notes.
For afters, I was tempted by the chocolate fudge cake or the treacle sponge, how could you turn down the chance to try a "loveable lemon lush"? It turned out to be a zingy lemon mousse on a biscuit base, tasty and good value at £3.25.
Overall, the food was excellent. In truth, when I first saw the flags, the parasols, and the flashing lights of the slot machines, I wasn't expecting much, but perhaps I should have had more faith in Mike and Mick. This is a serious dining venue.
The total bill was £33.85, superb value, and it was clear from other customers that the present owners have worked wonders since returning after a three-year absence.
And Mike Miles, who has tirelessly championed this pub over the last year or so, I think you have earned yourself a free pint.
England Expects, of course.
The Drill, Springlestyche Lane, Burntwood WS7 9HD
Phone: 01543 675799
Breaded mushrooms with salad and garlic mayonnaise £3.25; Hot and spicy chicken wings served with salad and barbecue sauce £3.25; Brie wedges with salad and cranberry sauce £3.25; Brussels pate with salad and warm toast £3.25
Plain burger £2.25; Chicken tower burger £4.95; Home-made steak in ale pie with puff pastry topping £7.25; Large cod in home-made beer batter £8.95; Surf and turf £8.95; Vegetarian lasagne £6.25; Mushroom stroganoff £6.25
DESSERTS (all £3.25)
Chocolate fudge cake, Treacle sponge, Rhubarb raspberry frangipane
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